United States District Court, District of Columbia
SHONICE G. GARNETT et al., Plaintiffs,
LAURA ZEILINGER, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER R COOPER, United States District Judge.
of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in the
District of Columbia-filed this putative class action against
the director of the District's benefit program. They
allege several violations of the federal requirements for
administration of the program. Plaintiffs now seek to certify
two classes of District benefits recipients. Finding that the
resolution of their motion is governed by the D.C.
Circuit's recent decision in D.L. v. District of
Columbia (“D.L. II”), 860 F.3d 713
(D.C. Cir. 2017), the Court will grant their motion, though
it will certify three classes instead of two.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
originally enacted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program (“SNAP”) in 1964, seeking to combat
hunger and malnutrition by assisting low-income households in
purchasing food. See Food Stamp Act of 1964, Pub. L.
No. 88-525, 78 Stat. 703 (codified at 7 U.S.C. §§
2021 et seq.). A household is typically eligible for
SNAP benefits if its net income is below the federal poverty
line and its resources generally do not exceed $2, 000. 7
U.S.C. § 2014(c), (g). Within the federal government,
the Secretary of Agriculture has delegated most of the
administration of SNAP to the federal Food and Nutrition
Service (“FNS”), an agency within the Department
of Agriculture. 7 C.F.R. § 271.3.
for administering SNAP is shared between the federal
government and the States. The federal government provides
the funding for benefits and covers 50 percent of
administrative costs. 7 U.S.C. §§ 2013(a), 2025.
States can elect to participate in the program and, if they
do, are responsible for certifying household eligibility,
issuing benefits, and otherwise administering the program on
the state level. Id. §§ 2013(a),
2020(a)(1); 7 C.F.R. § 271.4. If a State elects to
participate, it must administer its SNAP program in
accordance with the relevant statutes and the Secretary of
Agriculture's regulations. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e); 7
C.F.R. § 273.2.
these requirements involve the procedure for processing
applications for SNAP benefits. For instance, States must
allow a household to apply for SNAP benefits the same day
that it contacts a SNAP program office in person during
office hours. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(2)(B)(iii). Once a
State receives an application for benefits, it must
“promptly” certify a household's eligibility.
Id. § 2020(e)(3). This certification process
must be completed and benefits provided no later than thirty
days after the application's filing. Id. For
certain households with extremely low income-less than $150
per month or liquid resources less than $100-the State must
provide benefits no later than seven days after an
application is filed. Id. § 2020(e)(9)(A).
These are known as “expedited” applications.
households are certified for a specific period of time, known
as the “certification period.” See id.
§ 2020(e)(4). States are required to ensure that
households receive a notice at the start of the last month of
their certification period, warning them of the expiration of
the certification period and the need to recertify to
continue receiving benefits. Id. For any household
that submits a recertification application no later than
fifteen days prior to the expiration of its certification
period, the State must provide benefits-if the household
remains eligible-without a break in provision. Id.
If a State fails to process a completed application on time,
the household is entitled to a written notice of this failure
and information regarding appeal rights, including the right
to a hearing. Id. § 2020(e)(10).
August 2017, a group of D.C. residents filed suit against
Laura Zeilinger, the Director of the District's
Department of Human Services-which oversees the
District's SNAP program-alleging that the District's
administration of SNAP was deficient in several
respects.Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that the
District was: (1) failing to process initial applications for
benefits and provide benefits to eligible households within
the applicable statutory time limit, in violation of the SNAP
Act, Am. Compl. ¶ 171; (2) failing to complete the SNAP
recertification application process so as to allow eligible
households to receive benefits without a break in service,
also in violation of the SNAP Act, id. ¶ 172;
and (3) failing to provide notice and an opportunity for a
hearing for SNAP applicants whose applications were not
processed on time, in violation of the SNAP Act and the Due
Process Clause of the Constitution, id. ¶ 173.
They sought declaratory and injunctive relief to correct
with their complaint, Plaintiffs filed a motion for class
certification. Plaintiffs sought to certify two classes: (1)
a class of residents whose SNAP benefit applications were not
processed in accordance with the timelines mandated by
statute and (2) a class of residents who did not receive
their recertification notices as required by statute and had
their benefits terminated as a consequence. Pls.' Mem.
Law. Supp. Mot. Class Certification (“Class Cert.
Mot.”) at 4. Plaintiffs later filed a motion for a
preliminary injunction, and the Court set a parallel briefing
schedule for both that motion and the motion for class
certification. Following a period of limited discovery
related to issues raised in the motion for a preliminary
injunction, the parties completed briefing on both motions.
The Court held a hearing on both motions on March 19, 2018.
It will now resolve Plaintiffs' pending motion for class
Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) establishes four requirements
for certification of a class: (1) numerosity, that “the
class is so numerous that joinder of all members is
impracticable”; (2) commonality, that “there are
questions of law or fact common to the class”; (3)
typicality, that “the claims or defenses of the
representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses
of the class”; and (4) adequacy, that “the
representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the
interests of the class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a). In
addition to meeting these four requirements under Rule 23(a),
a putative class must also meet one of the requirements of
Rule 23(b). Here, Plaintiffs allege that they meet the
requirements of Rule 23(b)(2), that “the party opposing
the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply
generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief . . .
is appropriate respecting the class as a whole.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2). The party seeking certification bears
the burden of persuasion, and must show that the putative
classes meet the requirements of Rule 23 by a preponderance
of the evidence. See, e.g., Hoyte v. District of
Columbia, 2017 WL 3208456, at * 5 (D.D.C. July 27,
District challenges class certification under both Rule 23(a)
and Rule 23(b)(2). Before confronting these challenges, the
Court will briefly respond to two threshold arguments the
The District's threshold arguments
the District contends that class certification is not
appropriate because Plaintiffs cannot meet the requirements
for a preliminary injunction. Def.'s Opp'n Pls.'
Mot. Class Certification (“Class Cert.
Opp'n”) at 7-8; Def.'s Surreply Supp. Opp'n
Pls.' Mot. Class Certification (“Class Cert.
Surreply”) at 2-3. The District cites a single case for
this proposition: Hardy v. Fisher, 701 F.Supp.2d 614
(S.D.N.Y. 2010). But that case in inapposite. In
Hardy, the district court ruled that the putative
class was not entitled to preliminary injunctive relief
because the plaintiffs raised claims that could not be
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See id. at
622-23. The court stated that the “denial of the motion
for injunctive relief moot[ed] the motion for certification
of an injunctive class.” Id. at 617 n.3. But
here the District does not argue that Plaintiffs cannot bring
injunctive relief claims under the statute at issue; rather,
their arguments against the motion for preliminary injunction
focus on why Plaintiffs fail to meet the specific
requirements for preliminary injunctive relief. See
Def.'s Opp'n Pls.' Mot. Prelim. Inj.; Def.'s
Surreply Supp. Opp'n Pls.' Mot. Prelim. Inj. In any
case, even if the Court were to follow the approach taken by
the court in Hardy, it would be premature to deny
class certification on this ground now because the Court has
not yet ruled on the preliminary injunction motion. If the
Court were to conclude that Plaintiffs could not obtain any
injunctive relief under the statute, it could decertify the
class at that juncture.
the District argues that class certification is unnecessary
because “the ‘injunctive relief sought by the
named plaintiffs would benefit all proposed class
members.'” Class Cert Surreply at 3 (quoting
Sargent v. Black, 576 F.Supp. 882, 888 (D.D.C.
1983)); see also Class Cert. Opp'n at 7. This is
a somewhat odd position for the District to take: it later
argues, as the Court will discuss, that a single injunction
would not remedy the harms for all class members.
See Class Cert Opp'n at 18.
argument is unpersuasive in any event. The Court has an
obligation to ensure that any injunction it issues is
“narrowly tailored to remedy the specific harm
shown.” Nev. Dep't of Health & Human Servs.
v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 435 F.3d
326, 330 (D.C. Cir. 2006). To the extent that the named
plaintiffs show that they are individually harmed,
the Court could issue an injunction narrowly tailored to
them individually-i.e., directing the
District to process their specific applications or issue
their specific recertification notices on time-which would
provide no relief to the absent class members. Thus, contrary
to the District's argument, any injunctive relief issued
to the named plaintiffs would not necessarily or
automatically benefit the absent class members. The Court will
therefore turn to the requirements for certification under
Requirements of Rule 23(a)
District argues that Plaintiffs fail to show they meet the
four requirements for class certification in Rule 23(a).
While the District challenges all four requirements, it
focuses on commonality and typicality. The Court ultimately
concludes that this case is analogous to the D.C.
Circuit's recent decision in D.L. II and, as